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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Blasting hard-line conservatives as “false prophets,” U.S. House Speaker John Boehner on Sunday said Congress will avoid a government shutdown this week and he will push through as much unfinished legislation as possible before leaving at the end of October.

Speaking on CBS’ Face the Nation two days after his surprise resignation, he said the House this week would pass a Senate-authored government funding bill that does not meet conservatives’ demands to cut off money for Planned Parenthood.

Asked if passage would require Democratic votes, he responded: “I’m sure it will, but I suspect my Democratic colleagues want to keep the government open as much as I do.”

The Ohio Republican also announced that he would convene a special committee to investigate Planned Parenthood’s abortion practices, similar to the one probing deadly attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.

Boehner resigned amid deep divisions among House Republicans over a range of issues including a Sept. 30 deadline to approve new funding for federal agencies.

Conservative Republicans, some of whom have called for his ouster, have insisted on punishing Planned Parenthood by denying funds over allegations that the non-profit group improperly sold tissue harvested from aborted fetuses.

Planned Parenthood denies any wrongdoing.

As Republicans jockeyed for influence in the race to replace him, Boehner lashed out at the conservative groups and lawmakers who made his position untenable, including Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, calling them “false prophets” who made “unrealistic” demands.

He said they “whip people into a frenzy believing they can accomplish things they know, they know are never going to happen.”

Boehner said he would clear as much of Congress’ to-do-list as he could but did not name specific bills.

Congress faces several important fiscal deadlines, including a transportation spending bill needed in October and a larger budget deal that would go beyond the 10-week extension to be passed next week.

An increase in the federal debt ceiling also will be needed by December and lawmakers from both parties want to revive the idled U.S. Export-Import Bank, which Boehner has long supported.

The speaker’s resignation frees him to put legislation to House votes without fear of a move to oust him.

“I expect that I might have a little more cooperation from some around town to get as much finished as possible,” Boehner said. “I don’t want to leave my successor a dirty barn.”

(Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Tom Heneghan and Andrew Hay)

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) publicly announces his resignation as Speaker and from the U.S. Congress at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, September 25, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Photo by expertinfantry/ CC BY 2.0

At this moment, the president of the United States is threatening to "throw out" the votes of millions of Americans to hijack an election that he seems more than likely to lose. Donald Trump is openly demanding that state authorities invalidate lawful absentee ballots, no different from the primary ballot he mailed to his new home state of Florida, for the sole purpose of cheating. And his undemocratic scheme appears to enjoy at least nominal support from the Supreme Court, which may be called upon to adjudicate the matter.

But what is even worse than Trump's coup plot — and the apparent assent of unprincipled jurists such as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh — is the Democratic Party's feeble response to this historic outrage. It is the kind of issue that Republicans, with their well-earned reputation for political hardball, would know how to exploit fully and furiously.

They know because they won the same game in Florida 20 years ago.

During that ultimate legal showdown between George W. Bush and Al Gore, when every single vote mattered, a Democratic lawyer argued in a memorandum to the Gore team that the validity of absentee ballots arriving after Election Day should be challenged. He had the law on his side in that particular instance — but not the politics.

As soon as the Republicans got hold of that memo, they realized that it was explosive. Why? Many of the late ballots the Democrats aimed to invalidate in Florida had been sent by military voters, and the idea of discarding the votes of service personnel was repellent to all Americans. Former Secretary of State James Baker, who was overseeing the Florida recount for Bush, swiftly denounced the Democratic plot against the soldiers, saying: "Here we have ... these brave young men and women serving us overseas. And the postmark on their ballot is one day late. And you're going to deny him the right to vote?"

Never mind the grammar; Baker's message was powerful — and was followed by equally indignant messages in the following days from a parade of prominent Bush backers including retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the immensely popular commander of U.S. troops in the Desert Storm invasion that drove Saddam Hussein's army out of Kuwait. Fortuitously, Schwarzkopf happened to be on the scene as a resident of Florida.

As Jeffrey Toobin recounted in Too Close to Call, his superb book on the Florida 2000 fiasco, the Democrats had no choice but to retreat. "I would give the benefit of the doubt to ballots coming in from military personnel," conceded then-Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Gore's running mate, during a defensive appearance on Meet the Press. But Toobin says Gore soon realized that to reject military ballots would render him unable to serve as commander in chief — and that it would be morally wrong.

Fast-forward to 2020, when many of the same figures on the Republican side are now poised to argue that absentee ballots, which will include many thousands of military votes — should not be counted after Election Day, even if they arrived on time. Among those Republicans is Justice Kavanaugh, who made the opposite argument as a young lawyer working for Bush in Florida 20 years ago. Nobody expects legal consistency or democratic morality from a hack like him, but someone should force him and his Republican colleagues to own this moment of shame.

Who can do that? Joe Biden's campaign and the Democratic Party ought to be exposing the Republican assault on military ballots — and, by the same token, every legally valid absentee ballot — every day. But the Democrats notoriously lack the killer instinct of their partisan rivals, even at a moment of existential crisis like this one.

No, this is clearly a job for the ex-Republicans of the Lincoln Project, who certainly recall what happened in Florida in 2000. They have the attitude and aptitude of political assassins. They surely know how to raise hell over an issue like military votes — and now is the time to exercise those aggressive skills in defense of democracy.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.